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Toward the end of July, 2014, Amazon introduced a new subscription service called Kindle Unlimited, which allows customers to read unlimited books for $9.99 (US price) per month.

  • This includes 100,000 traditionally published books in addition to 600,000 KDP Select books.
  • Most of the traditionally published books are from smaller publishers, but include some popular books such as Harry Potter.
  • Customers can borrow up to 10 different books at a time (whereas Amazon Prime allows just one borrow per month).
  • Kindle Unlimited only pays a royalty when a customer reaches 10% of the book’s length.
  • All Kindle Unlimited downloads affect sales rank, regardless of whether or not the customer reaches the 10% mark.
  • Royalties for Kindle Unlimited borrows have been as low as $1.30, down considerably from around $2 prior to Kindle Unlimited.
  • Many books receive numerous Kindle Unlimited borrows, while borrows were much more scarce when it had been only Amazon Prime.
  • The KDP Select Global Fund has increased dramatically, from around $1 million to around $5 million per month.
  • Self-publishers must enroll in KDP Select in order to participate in Kindle Unlimited. The trade-off is exclusivity: You can’t publish your e-book elsewhere while your book is enrolled in the program (and you can only opt out when your 90-day enrollment period is about to renew; you must deselect the auto-renewal first).


Remember the early days of self-publishing?

  • The naysayers claimed that it would ruin literacy, that it would be impossible to find quality books, that it would devalue books, that customers wouldn’t support it.
  • Traditional publishers and their advocates either ignored it or marketed against it, highlighting its faults and the benefits of traditional publishing.
  • Thousands of authors who had heard successful self-publishing stories sought to get rich quickly with little effort. They soon realized it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, that you really have to produce quality content for a target audience and package and market the book well, and the worst tend to fall to the bottom where they don’t get in the way.
  • But millions of readers continue to support self-published books, it’s not too hard to find good books with a little shopping wisdom, and self-publishing now takes up a significant share of the publishing industry.

History is repeating itself with Kindle Unlimited.

  • Some authors see the low payout (around $1.30) and the 10% threshold and feel that Kindle Unlimited favors shorter books. But those authors who plan to use Kindle Unlimited to get rich quickly with less effort will find, just as with self-publishing in general, that you still need to produce quality content that pleases and attracts a target audience. Nothing is easy, and there is much competition. Just turning out crud isn’t likely to be rewarded.
  • Naysayers continue to complain about literacy being ruined and books being devalued, especially now that you can read books for a low monthly subscription. But really, this works out to $120 per year, which isn’t cheap in the long-term. Kindle Unlimited may actually encourage more reading than ever before, as you need to read more books to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
  • Traditional publishers and their advocates aren’t sure what to make of Kindle Unlimited. Hoping it will go away doesn’t appear to be a viable solution. Some self-publishing books landed on bestseller lists when Kindle Unlimited launched.
  • There is a significant audience for Kindle Unlimited. Just compare the $5 million or so global fund to the $1.30 or so payout. There are very many books being read through Kindle Unlimited.


What Kindle Unlimited really does for the publishing industry is divide the digital audience into two distinct groups:

  • Customers who purchase e-books.
  • Customers who borrow e-books through Kindle Unlimited.

Both audiences are significant.

A Kindle Unlimited subscriber isn’t likely to purchase an e-book. Not when you can get 600,000 for free. For the most part, a borrowed book isn’t a lost sale. It’s in addition to sales.

The real question for authors is this: Would you sell enough e-books through Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere (keeping in mind that Apple customers can use the Kindle app) to compensate for the borrows that you would get through Kindle Unlimited?

For new, self-published authors trying to establish themselves, it may be wise to start out with Kindle Unlimited. Many feel that Kindle Unlimited customers are more likely to give their books a shot, since there is nothing to lose. If you’re not happy with Kindle Unlimited, you can always opt out when the 90-day enrollment period ends (but you have to uncheck the auto-renew box).

I’ve read a few articles about various ‘problems’ with Kindle Unlimited. To me, these articles are ‘validating’ Kindle Unlimited more than anything else, even when they highlight drawbacks.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set now available for Kindle and in print

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